The roads that lead to Kiva borrowers: this one in good condition.

With few exceptions, Kiva borrowers have greeted my visits to their homes and businesses with the sentiment captured in the blog title, that is to say with skepticism and unease.  Visits can start awkwardly and end awkwardly.  But sometimes they inspire; borrowers graciously share their story – their successes and struggles, their hopes and fears – with a complete stranger.

 

As part of my work with Kiva field partner Prisma Honduras, I’ve been tasked with conducting an audit, or in Kiva parlance, a Borrower Verification (BV).  Basically, I get to visit a bunch of determined entrepreneurs and verify that they do indeed exist and that they are using the loan for its intended use.  For a more thorough explanation of BVs and why they’re important, please see Kiva fellow Peter Soley’s excellent blog about his experiences in Bolivia.

The roads that lead to Kiva borrowers: this one road in bad condition.

Here are 6 observations from my visits that I hope provide some insight into what Honduran borrowers are really like:

6.  Just like us, they want to look good in photos.  Shocking, I know.  Almost without fail, upon asking if I can take their picture, a flurry of readying ensues.  Women change clothes, apply makeup, and fix hair.  Men break out combs, button up shirts, and knock the dust off.

Loan officer Marlon and Kiva Coordinator Fabricio accompanied me on a visit to Coyolito on the Pacific coast.

5.  They trust their loan officers.  I’m welcomed into homes and business because I’m accompanied by their loan officer.  Borrowers often look to the loan officer for a nod or gesture of approval before divulging sensitive information to me.  To clarify, they’re not seeking approval of what they’ve said or permission to continue, but rather the assurance that I can be trusted.

4.  Machismo:  alive and well in Honduras.  The job of loan officer is a male occupation.  Susan, based out of the main office in Tegucigalpa, is Prisma’s only female loan.  She accompanied me on a visit to a female client of hers on the outskirts of town.  It has been my only visit to a female borrower in which the borrower wasn’t freaked out by my presence.  Why?  Because Susan has a calming, reassuring influence.  All other visits to female borrowers have been made with a male loan officer and needless to say, the ladies are reluctant to share much.

On the other hand, male borrowers, once they realize I’m harmless and interested in what they have to say, readily hold forth.

If over 60% of Prisma’s clients are female, why are there not more female loan officers?  Machismo.

Nixsa preparing to give a bread-making demonstration. Me rocking my trusty Kiva polo and admiring the oven.

3.  They take great pride in their work.  I start each visit with an informal conversation about business.  Rather than, “Hi Nixsa, can I take pictures of your loan passbook,” I open with, “Hi Nixsa, you make bread, right?  Can I see the oven?”

2.  They have inflated assumptions about who I am.  Initially, I thought that if I explained that I was merely a volunteer, it would serve to put the borrower at ease.  I was wrong, as borrowers either don’t understand my explanation (most likely) or don’t believe me.  On multiple occasions I’ve overheard (or was I eaves-dropping?) references to me as a boss or director from the U.S.

Snapper for lunch at the restaurant of a Kiva borrower in Coyolito.

1.  They have a limited understanding of Kiva, which helps to explain the uncertainty with which I am received.  Most borrowers don’t know they are Kiva borrowers.  In the case of Prisma, it is the job of the loan officer to explain the Kiva model to the borrower during the loan application process.  However, borrowers forget the explanation or don’t understand it in the first place or don’t care.  Furthermore, both borrower internet savvy and loan officer ability/desire to explain the Kiva model vary widely.  There is certainly a generation gap: younger borrowers typically grasp the basics of the model, older borrowers simply don’t.

Stay tuned.  As I’ll be working with other Honduran field partners during my fellowship, I’ll get the chance to meet many more Kiva entrepreneurs.  In a future post I plan to say more about the previous point (observation #1).  If borrowers don’t even know they’re on Kiva, is the legitimacy of the Kiva model compromised in any way?

Bonus Pic: An Evangelical Mennonite church. I’m not sure what that means.

Wesley Schrock is Kiva Fellow (KF19) working with Prisma in Honduras.  Become a member of Prisma’s lending team, lend to one of their borrowers today, or apply to be a Fellow!


Comments

Hey Wesley, really keen insights into the BV process, I find it interesting that there are significant similarities and differences in how Kiva partners work with borrowers in Latin America, even the 2 partners I work with in Bolivia vary considerably. Especially salient is #6... I've really seen a difference in how female loan officers interact with female borrowers, perhaps something that needs a closer look! And of course #1, this is something I have encountered everywhere as well... even if loan officers explain Kiva carefully during the loan application process, most of the borrowers I've visited have extremely limited access to (and understanding of) the internet. "Kiva" just doesn't register in most cases. Great read, I hope the 2nd half of your fellowship goes well. Saludos de Bolivia!

Really interesting post Wesley! Echoing Peter's comment about similarities and differences among MFIs, there is also a shortage of women field credit officers here at our MFI in India. I'd imagine one major challenge for most is having to travel such long distances on arduous journeys. Another specific constraint here in India is our MFI requires all field staff to relocate to a different branch every 6 months to prevent corruption. Although with good intentions, this makes it even harder for women to have a long and successful career and have a family. As a result, we see very few female branch managers. Great read and Happy Diwali!

Wes, What a great experience! I am very intereted in reading your blog as many years ago I spent 3 1/2 months in Honduras. I spent half the time in Tegucigalpa and half in Zamora. At the time Honduras was the poorest of the Latin American coutries. The Evangelical Mennonite church looked familiar. Where is that located? I remember my mud hut in Zamora, the beautiful white sand beaches of Trujillo, and the very nice people. Enjoy!

One more comment on the female loan officer point - I've been happily impressed to discover the MFI I'm working with, Tujijenge Tanzania, actively recruits female loan officers. They specifically try to maintain about 50:50 ratio in the loan officer position because so many of their borrowers are women.

Can I contact you direct with questions about the qualifying of lenders? Long time kiva supporter. Interested in Belize.

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